The Talking Machine Forum — For All Antique Phonographs & Recordings

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 Post subject: Featured Phonograph № 17
PostPosted: Sat May 09, 2009 7:54 am 
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Victor V
Joined: Fri Jan 09, 2009 3:47 am
Posts: 2406
Location: Jerome, Arizona
Make: Shell-O-Phone
Model: same
Serial #: unk.(none found on this example)
Year(s) Made: 1919?
Original Cost: ? - probably not inexpensive!
Case/Cabinet Size: Upright, mahogany
Turntable/Mandrel: 12" gold-plated
Reproducer/Sound-Box: metal diaphragm, generic lateral/hill & dale combo
Motor: 3-spring
Horn Dimensions: 12"t x 17"w x 16"d
Reproduction Parts: none
Current Value: ?
Interesting Facts: see below

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Here you go - a weird one! Manufactured by the Shell-O-Phone Talking Machine Co. of Chicago. Plays through a conch shell set a in plaster-of-Paris bezel! The decal declares in finer print "The World's Greatest Musical Instrument". It is a large, tasteful, and extremely well-made machine with a silky-smooth motor, gold plated hardware, and four — count 'em — four needle cups (an indication of the intent of serious listening) . . . except . . . the tone arm and reproducer (which appear to be original) are nickel-plated and rather generic and cheap. I would suspect that Shell-O-Phone folded almost as it started, and they were likely scrambling for hardware to complete the few that were produced. I have only been able to account for two of these in collections — mine, and Bob Johnson's in Oregon — so I suspect that there aren't many examples. Because of the quality of the cabinet and motor, etc., I think that the sea shell concept may have been an honest attempt to create an audiophile experience, not unlike esoteric high-fi and stereo equipment. Although the sound quality is a bit tinny, mostly because of the metal diaphragm in the reproducer, the sea shell provides adequate and very directional sound. The grill is on ball-catches and pops in and out easily, probably to facilitate showing off the conch shell.

When I first found this and was waiting for it to arrive, I expected it to be a cheap, crappy machine because of the novelty of the sea shell. I did not expect it to be such a well-made machine obviously intended for serious listening. It is a shame that the vision of the promoters of this machine was not more fully realized. I'd love to hear it with a Victrola taper arm and a No. 2 reproducer installed!

If anyone ever finds any Shell-O-Phone support materials, dusters — even just an ad, please let me know! Thanks!

BTW, if you stand close enough to it, you can hear the ocean! ;)

John M
"All of us have a place in history. Mine is clouds." Richard Brautigan


Last edited by JohnM on Sat May 09, 2009 4:14 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Featured Phonograph № 17
PostPosted: Sat May 09, 2009 8:40 am 
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Victor V
Joined: Wed Jan 07, 2009 4:21 pm
Posts: 2512
Just when you think you've seen it all, along comes the Shell-o-phone! :o

What a fasinating machine & concept. Mother natures exponential horn. It really does look like a very high quality machine, and I'd imagine the original price would have been way beyond the reach of all but the extremely wealthy. Probably not the best market to break into with a machine that would be hard to achieve a standard sound quality within the range. No two shells would be exactly the same, so I guess each phonograph would have sounded slightly different.
That's one of the great things about this hobby. You never know what you're going to see next. They were certainly never scared of trying new ideas & marketing them back in the day. You must have been wrapped to find this machine, and in such fine condition as well.
Thanks for sharing it with us John. She's a beauty!

*BTW, if you stand close enough to it, you can hear the ocean!

. I was going to ask where the gasoline came out :)


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 Post subject: Re: Featured Phonograph № 17
PostPosted: Sat May 09, 2009 10:17 am 
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Victor IV
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Joined: Sun Feb 15, 2009 5:40 pm
Posts: 1577
Location: Holy Loch in Argyll and Bute
Indeed, that has to be one of the most baffling concepts ever in the history of recorded sound! :shock:

But why did they think that a simple shell would improve the reproduction; I mean it's not as if we regard sea shells as being the ultimate "port" of any kind?!

Surely a rarity, so thanks for sharing it with us.


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 Post subject: Re: Featured Phonograph № 17
PostPosted: Sat May 09, 2009 10:36 am 
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Victor V
Joined: Fri Jan 09, 2009 3:47 am
Posts: 2406
Location: Jerome, Arizona
Well, shells have been used as signaling devices since ancient times. And if you want to take it to a more esoteric/mystical level, g-shane's comment on nature's own exponential horn is spot on . . . that is, the mathematical progression of the Golden Mean that determines much of the construction and appearance of Nature from flowers to sea shells to snails to tornadoes to our own ear. The concept of the spiral and the vortex is tied in with many things in human thought from the cauldron stirring of witches to Rudolf Steiner's lectures on Biodynamic agricultural practices. While not a card-carrying follower, I am at least a fan of Steiner's, so the idea of sound spinning round in a shell appeals greatly to me.

There were also radio speakers constructed in the late-teens or twenties with exposed conch shells mounted on top of the drivers. I'm not a radio expert, so I can't quote chapter and verse who made those. I wonder if there was a Shell-O-Phone tie-in? http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://radioattic.com/images/hoke/Hoke_Seashell_spkr_another_small.jpg&imgrefurl=http://radioattic.com/gallery.htm%3Fstyle%3DSpeakers&usg=__Af-21x9jYT7ym9UlvaNM0TOt8ZM=&h=150&w=92&sz=5&hl=en&start=17&tbnid=IjRlmiSUVaA3mM:&tbnh=96&tbnw=59&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dsea%2Bshell%2Bradio%2Bspeaker%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dfirefox-a%26rls%3Dorg.mozilla:en-US:official%26sa%3DG

John M
"All of us have a place in history. Mine is clouds." Richard Brautigan


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 Post subject: Re: Featured Phonograph № 17
PostPosted: Sat May 09, 2009 3:39 pm 
John, thanks for sharing this. When I first saw the picture of the horn I thought that the shell was just a picture at the far end of the horn - almost like a trademark. I've only just realised that it is actually a shell :shock: How strange to use that as part of a phono!!

What an interesting concept in sound amplification!

RJ 8-)


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 Post subject: Re: Featured Phonograph № 17
PostPosted: Sat Aug 21, 2010 9:39 pm 
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Victor Jr
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Life is short. Unless you are waiting for the cable installer.
Joined: Sat Aug 21, 2010 8:11 pm
Posts: 22
Location: Sarasota, FL
John,
Thank you for this info. I purchased a Shell-O-Phone today, and have been scouring the web to find any info on it. I am a neophyte on these devices, but just thought this was a great antique piece. Didn't even know about the conch shell until we got it home and I started researching it. Have not been able to remove the grill, like in (I am assuming) your YouTube video I saw. I am afraid to just tug it too hard, so I may have to have someone look at it.

Another difference is that the one I bought does not have gold plating. It appears to be all nickel plating. Cosmetically and operationally it is in excellent condition. (There were about 24 78's in the storage area, so fortunately I have something to try it out with.)

I have posted a few pictures of this one below. I am curious if you have ever found more info on these devices, and the company that produced them.

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I would be very interested in your thoughts. Thanks!


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 Post subject: Re: Featured Phonograph № 17
PostPosted: Sun Aug 22, 2010 8:36 am 
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Victor V
Joined: Fri Jan 09, 2009 3:47 am
Posts: 2406
Location: Jerome, Arizona
Hi! Didn't see this thread until Ihad already responded to the other. The cabinet on yours appears to be a bit plainer than mine, and has no lid lock mechanism, so we can safely infer that Shell-O-Phones were produced in at least two grades for two price points.

The front grill is held in place by ball catches that may have stiffened up over the years. A half-drop of sewing machine oil on each one should keep them happy for a year or more. I believe that the grill was fastened this way to facilitate easy removal by the salesman and by the owner who wanted to impress his friends. The grill cloth is not original and you should remove it.

I would advise you to have the motor and reproducer serviced/rebuilt so it will perform optimally and last another couple of lifetimes.
"All of us have a place in history. Mine is clouds." Richard Brautigan


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 Post subject: Re: Featured Phonograph № 17
PostPosted: Sun Aug 22, 2010 9:42 pm 
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Victor Jr
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Life is short. Unless you are waiting for the cable installer.
Joined: Sat Aug 21, 2010 8:11 pm
Posts: 22
Location: Sarasota, FL
Hi John,
Finally have some time in front of the computer to respond. I agree, they appear to be different grades of machines. My wife had noticed the lock on yours.

I am not sure my grill is attached by ball catches as yours is. It appears to rest in a top and bottom groove, and does move up and down a bit. It looks like I should be able to "lift up and out", but it doesn't come that way. I am going to try and find a local person who can give me some guidance for this. We have a small antique car museum in town that also has a large selection of talking machines. I think I will contact them to get a lead on a person who can help me and also do the work you recommend. However I do have a couple questions that I will get to in a moment.

In the meantime, you asked me in another thread if I would mind sharing some details on my "find". I am happy to do so (please bear in mind I am a neophyte, so forgive me if I broach some collecter protocol). I live in Sarasota, FL. I purchased this talking machine at an antiques store in Arcadia, a small town about 60 miles from here. Arcadia is well known as a town with many antiques shops. I paid $350 for the piece, a price I was very happy with. I think I'm even happier now, but you folks can set me straight on that!

As mentioned, I do have a couple questions, and would appreciate any help people could provide me with. One, I need to get replacement needles for this, but have no clue where to look or what to look for. Where and what should I get? Also, the turntable on this machine sits on a hinged door with a small knob on it. I gently tried lifting that, but it is resistant to opening. How do I open that, and what sits under it? I am assuming the motor and related gearing (governor). I am just curious about this.

I appreciate your follow up and additional information. I am going to do some research on this company and see what else I can find. This is one of the most exciting purchases I have ever made. I had no idea how unique it was.

Thanks again!


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 Post subject: Re: Featured Phonograph № 17
PostPosted: Fri Aug 27, 2010 1:18 pm 
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Victor Jr
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Life is short. Unless you are waiting for the cable installer.
Joined: Sat Aug 21, 2010 8:11 pm
Posts: 22
Location: Sarasota, FL
JohnM,
You had asked for any fliers or information on the Shell-O-Phone. I have a Patent Attorney friend who located the original patent for this device. The inventor was a man named Robert L. Poe of Chicago. He applied for the patent on January 16, 1917. It was awarded on December 28, 1920. Shellophone (as it reads on the patent) is listed as a Delaware Corporation. I suppose it is possible he applied for the patent before starting the company, and closed it before earning the patent award!

I did find that Mr. Poe was also awarded a patent in 1917 for a talking machine cabinet design, but have not pulled info on that yet.

It is an interesting read. I have uploaded the actual document at http://www.shell-o-phone.com/images/136 ... ophone.pdf
(Yes, I am obsessed. I am starting a website) :lol:


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 Post subject: Re: Featured Phonograph № 17
PostPosted: Thu Sep 02, 2010 4:56 pm 
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Victor Jr
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Life is short. Unless you are waiting for the cable installer.
Joined: Sat Aug 21, 2010 8:11 pm
Posts: 22
Location: Sarasota, FL
Finally was able to safely remove the grill on this. Just to note, mine indeed did not have ball catches for securing the grill. Instead, It sits in a groove, and must be lifted up, then out. It appears the difficulty I had was due to the cloth cover that someone had attached to it. That was making the grill fit very tightly in its place.

I suspect that the difference in the grill mount is related to the different grade levels we speculated about. I have also noticed that mine has just three needle cups, not the four that yours has.

At any rate, the shell is in good shape, and all of the the wood inside was there, so I was happy to see that.

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